I took over in the lead, a 59 second cushion separating me from the chasers. No one in sight in front or behind. I ran a controlled effort up the first hill, not wanting to put myself in the red so early in a leg that would last nearly half an hour. The only indication I had that I was actually in a race were the shouts from the odd spectator I knew. It was bitterly cold, by far the coldest I have ever been in a race. Had the snow started falling any earlier I am certain this year’s Midland 12 Stage Road Relay would have been called off.
By the time I reached the flat section after the first hill the snow was coming down heavily; by the time I reached the out and back section I was in the midst of a full blizzard. The motorbike that normally leads the men’s race was nowhere to be seen; this was a surreal experience. This is a desperately quiet part of the course. Being the furthest section from the finish, it is rarely visited by spectators. I started passing runners from the women’s race. The presence of other humans awoke me from the lull of concentration I had found myself lapsing into. I pushed on, struggling to gauge my effort in the presence of athletes running much more slowly. Shortly after the turn I saw one of my competitors for the first time in the race. And another. And another. It occured to me at this point that it was impossible to end the day with a positive number next to my name. There was no one to pass but plenty of people trying to pass me. The gap to second had shrunk significantly and I made it my goal not to relinquish the lead that my team mate had worked so hard to set me up with. I listened for shouts of encouragement behind me that might indicate that I was about to get caught. By the time I started hearing them I was in the last mile. Having raced on it for years I know the Sutton Park course like the back of my hand and knew that if I could get up the short hill before the finish with a few seconds in hand I could probably hang on. Lungs and calves burning, I gave one last big effort over the hill and launched my finishing kick as I rounded the last corner. The gap was not getting any smaller by this point and cheered on by my teammates, I hung on. By two seconds.
This was only part of the day’s excitement though. Behind us, Bristol were slowly making their way through the field and setting up one the best races I have seen in Sutton Park. They took the lead on leg 7 and extended their lead to around a minute. We had three strong runners on the last three legs though, and started clawing back at the deficit. At the start of leg 12, they were half a minute ahead. By this point, I was out on the course, running between different points to offer my support. 20 seconds by the top of the hill. The gap was closing. Sadly, however, it didn’t close enough and we ended the day with silver medals for our efforts. After over four hours of racing, the first two teams were separated by a mere 16 seconds. One hundred metres after 47 miles of running.
I was cold, tired, hungry and was losing feeling in my fingers, but I was happy.
Monday: AM 10km easy / PM 13km easy (23)
Tuesday: AM 10km easy / PM road session 10*500 off 90s, did not complete session (22)
Wednesday: 12km easy (12)
Thursday: 8km easy (8)
Friday: rest (0)
Saturday: Midland 12 Stage, Leg 2 – 28:10, team were 2nd (18)
It started on Friday morning in the early hours and lasted all weekend with a just a few breaks on Saturday. Runners can train in all conditions – extreme heat, extreme cold, heavy rain, strong wind, but snow is the one that causes the most problems. Where do you go? If it’s heavy enough, as it was today, you’re OK as long as you stay off the roads and pavements, easier said than done when periods of snow tend to coincide with the times of year when daylight is hard to come by. Ice makes things tricky; even if you can find somewhere to run you might not be able to run hard enough to get a good training session in.
And yesterday a training session was just what I wanted.
The week was meant to be a taper week ahead of Telford 10k, due to be held this weekend and cancelled on Friday afternoon as a consequence of this current bout of snowy weather. Tuesday’s session was a long track session on very tired legs and Thursday’s was a 6 mile run with the middle two run hard. I felt great and clocked 10:02 for the two miles, feeling strong and as though I could have run for much longer at that pace. This left me excited for what I might do at the weekend and full of ‘what ifs’ the following day post-cancellation. I won’t have another opportunity to test my fitness in a race for another few weeks now and hope I can hold this good form until then.
Monday: AM 10km easy / PM 13km easy (23)
Tuesday: AM 9km easy / PM track session 16*400 with recoveries of 5*60s,5*45s,5*30s, all 68-72 (23)
On Friday I went out for an unexpected day time run in the snow after being sent home early from work (not for disciplinary reasons I might add – it was snowing heavily) and made my way down the canal towpath.
Not long after leaving the house I passed a group of four guys. All of them were probably slightly younger than me, and their manner of speech and their aroma suggested they had just ingested enough drugs to fuel the US Postal Service team for 3 weeks in the Alps. They stepped aside as I ran past them and made the usual comments questioning my sanity for running in such conditions. So far so good, but shortly after I heard the words “I’m gonna get ‘im” being uttered from one of their mouths. I’ve been chased before whilst running and kids will often run along side me for as long at they can manage, but I wasn’t sure whether this particular person meant it in a friendly or manacing way. This is Birmingham after all.
Not wishing to take any chances I put the burners on as soon as I heard his footsteps coming towards me. The chase was on. From a 20 metre headstart, the gap had shrunk to less than 10 metres and he was gaining on me. I ducked past the umbrella of another pedestrian and carried on sprinting through the blizzard. I could still hear him behind me but he was breathing heavily and I suspected he was approaching his limit. As I approached a tunnel the sound of his footsteps on the thick snow was replaced by the welcome cry of “you fucking killed me man!” followed by, well, nothing at all. I kept looking over my shoulder though, to check he hadn’t had second thoughts about conceding the win. He hadn’t, and I continued my run as planned, albeit at a much slower pace than I had just been going.
First of all, I got a huge adrenaline rush from it. Your body really does go into survival mode when forced into a situation like that. The guy probably wasn’t going to stick a knife in me but there was no way I was hanging around to find out. My legs, sore from the previous evening’s tempo run, felt light and powerful and I was able to run much harder than I would normally be able to. It’s amazing how the human body reacts to different situations.
Secondly, it got me thinking about whether I could outrun anyone. It was satistying to leave someone trailing in my wake, just as it is when I’m racing, and I feel fortunate to have trained myself to a high enough level of fitness to be able to do that. My bet is that I could outrun somewhere between 95 and 99% of the population given the same headstart. But how about those I couldn’t run away from with a 20 metre headstart? For a start, any distance runner better than me would get me; even if I could sprint faster (unlikely) they would have superior endurance. Obviously any sprinter would catch me if they wanted to. My ability to run hard for 25 miles would count for little if they were to catch me within 25 seconds. If I had to design the perfect hunter human, they would look like an 800/1500 runner – the perfect blend of speed and endurance. But I’d fancy myself against anyone else.
However, it’s unlikely to be a problem I have to deal with soon. As my friend pointed out this morning when I told him about the incident, the type of person who could outrun me is not the kind of person who would want to, and vice versa. He argued that the two are pretty much mutually exclusive. How many knife wealding drug takers with their hoods up also happen to possess well honed fast-twitch fibres?